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Molluscum Contagiosum

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Updated April 02, 2014

Molluscum contagiosum is a viral infection of the skin that causes discrete papules that may be mistaken for warts. While warts are caused by human papilloma viruses (HPV), molluscum contagiosum is caused by a pox virus. Most adults have come in contact with this virus and have developed an immunity to it; therefore, the rash is most often seen in children.

Molluscum Contagiosum Rash
The rash of molluscum contagiosum is characterized by discrete, 2 to 5 mm papules that are flesh-colored and dome-shaped with a central, sharply depressed center, or umbilication. In children the rash is most often found on the face, trunk, armpits, and extremities. In adults the rash is most often found in the pubic and genital region. The lesions are frequently grouped together and several groups can be found in various areas of the body. One way molluscum contagiosum can be distinguished from warts is that molluscum contagiosum is usually not found on the palms and soles.

Pictures of Molluscum Contagiosum

Molluscum Contagiosum Spread
Molluscum contagiosum is spread by direct contact with a lesion and spreading the virus to another area. The virus can also live for a short time on inanimate objects; therefore, it can be contracted by touching an infected object such as a brush or clothing.

Molluscum Contagiosum Time Course
Molluscum contagiosum is a self-limited disease, meaning it will eventually go away on its own. Each lesion generally lasts for about 6 to 9 months, but they can last for several years. While a lesion is present, there is a chance of spreading the rash to another area of the body. Often new lesions will crop up over a period of months. Each new crop of lesions last for 6 to 9 months. This gives the appearance that the rash is permanent.

Molluscum Contagiosum Treatment
Treatment for molluscum contagiosum must be individualized. Some treatments may be painful and would not be the first choice for children. Other treatments are not painful but require diligence over a long period of time. Sometimes the best treatment is reassurance that the lesions will go away on their own. Some examples of treatments are:

  • Curettage - Scraping the lesion off with or without anesthetic
  • Cryosurgery - Using liquid nitrogen to freeze the lesion
  • Cantharidin - A blistering agent applied sparingly to each lesion
  • Imiquimod (Aldara) - An immune system modulating topical cream that is also used to treat warts
  • Tretinoin (Retin-A) - The same cream used for acne applied to the lesion for weeks to months
  • Salicylic Acid (Compound W) - A solution applied to the lesion with or without tape occlusion
  • Laser - Lasers may be a choice for people with genital lesions.
Suggested Reading
  1. About.com
  2. Health
  3. Dermatology
  4. Skin Diseases
  5. Infections
  6. Viral Infections
  7. Molluscum Contagiosum

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